My wife Sheila and I started making mosaics together over a decade ago. It started as a project for some visiting kids, but after a while we came up with the idea of making some giant mosaic birds and decided we needed to populate our Long Branch home with them. Eventually people began asking us to make mosaics for them too. One of the benefits for me of going on the Miles Hearn nature walks has been to see birds in their habitat, learn to identify them and build up a collection of my own photos to use as reference material for our mosaic work.
Many different species of birds have become our subjects. The most recent project consists of 3 goldfinch which we installed at a home in Paris Ontario last week. This bird presented us with a special problem, since it changes appearance during winter, losing much of its bright yellow colour. Our client wants to hang the goldfinch group all year, but creating a second winter set was not going to be possible, so his home will feature the brightest goldfinch in the neighbourhood during the winter months.
Other recent projects include a male cardinal, which hangs at a home in Brampton, a nuthatch in downtown Toronto, and a cedar waxwing near Perth Ontario, which we constructed with a berry in its mouth. We also created a boreal chickadee this year in support of the Pelee Island Bird Observatory. This mosaic was auctioned off at their fundraising gala.
Although the majority of our mosaics have been oversized birds, we’ve branched out some along the way. Last year we supported the Baycrest Brain Project and created a monarch butterfly mosaic on the three dimensional giant brain-form they provided for us. We’ve done a number of butterflies, at times more fanciful than accurate to anything you might find in nature.
Sheila with big monarch
Another fanciful piece is the Candlestick Moth. Even the keenest naturalist out there may not have seen this rare insect in the wild. And then there is the grizzly bear. You have to be careful when you’re out in nature. This big guy hangs on the back wall of our client’s home, overlooking the pool – watch out, swimmers!
We generally depict our birds perched on branches. While we go for enough naturalism in depicting the bird for identification, we allow ourselves to have some fun with perches they sit on. The exception to this is the Magnolia Bench. We created a bench made from a slab of granite and two granite boulders. The mosaic work on the bench proper depicts a magnolia in bloom and sits near our client’s actual magnolia.
We do two types of mosaic work. Traditional grouted mosaics are constructed from Italian Smalti glass tiles, the same kind of tiles used in the mosaics in many cathedrals. The other approach, which tends to be more improvisational, is to use broken crockery and other small objects, from buttons to bits of floor tiles to erector set blocks. These mosaics, which contain a myriad of textures, are never grouted. For both approaches we use a birch plywood ground, sealed against the elements. Many of our mosaics have lived outside through the seasons for up to a decade and remain in good shape.
Our mosaics are all custom work and no two are quite the same. We’re always happy to talk to people about adding some birds or buttferflies or whatever (we were asked the other day if we would consider making a wolf!) to their home or garden. Additional photos can be found at longbranchmosaics.com
The McCracken cardinal